POLITICS + GOVERNMENT

What voters in New Hampshire have to say about Nikki Haley and Donald Trump ahead of Tuesday’s primary

Jan 21, 2024, 3:09 PM | Updated: Jan 25, 2024, 9:19 am

Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley speaks during a campaign event in Manchester, New Ham...

Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley speaks during a campaign event in Manchester, New Hampshire, on January 19, 2024. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

(Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Originally Published: 21 JAN 24 02:00 ET
Updated: 21 JAN 24 16:52 ET

Hollis, New Hampshire (CNN) — Danielle Brown voted for John McCain in the 2000 New Hampshire Republican primary and for Barack Obama in the Democratic primary eight years later. On Tuesday, she intends to back former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley to send a clear message to both parties.

“We need to have some new ideas and a new, younger generation coming in,” Brown, an undeclared voter, said as she clutched a Haley 2024 yard sign freshly autographed by the candidate. “Haley is energized. I think she can do a lot for our country.”

Brown is a voter stuck in the middle, one of thousands of undeclared and independent residents who make up a plurality of the Granite State’s electorate and a critical part of Haley’s coalition. Her chances in New Hampshire – and by extension, the fate of her campaign – likely hinge on how many independents vote for her in the state’s primary Tuesday.

As of Friday, 344,335 voters in New Hampshire were registered as undeclared, making up nearly 40% of the electorate.

Haley’s campaign is targeting Republicans and undeclared voters from the suburbs to the seacoast, advisers said, particularly in precincts where Trump underperformed other Republicans, such as Gov. Chris Sununu. Though former President Donald Trump won the 2016 New Hampshire GOP primary, he lost the state in the general election in both 2016 and 2020.

CNN/UNH poll released Sunday found that 50% of likely GOP primary voters support Trump, compared to 39% who back Haley. Haley is backed by a majority – 58% – of registered undeclared voters, but the former president has the support of 67% of registered Republicans.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who ended his campaign on Sunday afternoon, was backed by just 6% of New Hampshire GOP voters in the poll, below the 10% minimum support he would have needed to win delegates there per the Republican Party’s rules.

A win in New Hampshire could offer Haley’s campaign the momentum, and donor money, necessary to compete in South Carolina on February 24 and the Super Tuesday states voting on March 5.

A loss, however, might hasten the speed at which the Republican Party coalesces around Trump.

Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, who ended his own presidential bid in November, became the latest former candidate to endorse Trump at a rally in Concord on Friday. Haley dismissed the endorsement, saying in a statement that Trump was lining up “Washington insiders” despite vowing to drain the swamp.

“But the fellas are gonna do what the fellas are gonna do,” Haley said.

Trump seeks to maintain hold on conservatives

As Trump campaigns in New Hampshire, the former president is trying to keep Republicans in line – and out of reach for Haley.

“Nikki Haley in particular is counting on the Democrats and liberals to infiltrate your Republican primary,” Trump told supporters at a rally in Portsmouth on Wednesday.

His rallying cry is false. Democrats are not allowed to vote in the Republican primary, and the deadline for registering as a Republican or undeclared voter was October. Undeclared voters have the option to choose either a Democratic or Republican primary ballot on Election Day.

Greg Moore, a senior adviser for AFP Action, the political network backed by conservative billionaire Charles Koch that has thrown its resources behind Haley, said Friday that the group’s data shows the former governor’s base includes conservative voters. AFP Action, which endorsed Haley in November, has contacted more than 210,000 people in New Hampshire, Moore said.

“I think some of the narrative is that it’s all moderates for Haley and all conservatives for Trump,” Moore said. “I know that’s not true.”

What the former president may not know is that Haley’s rallies and town hall meetings in New Hampshire last week were filled with voters like Susan Rice of Rochester, who twice voted for Trump.

Rice, who owns a yarn business in New Hampshire and Maine, was invited to the White House in 2018 during the Trump administration for an event to showcase small-business leaders. She said she believed it was time for the country to move on.

“I’m a staunch Republican and I have been my entire life,” Rice said. “I think it’s time to have a woman as a president. I like her foreign policies and I like the fact that she has a good understanding of our southern border and what she wants to do for that.”

She said she was exhausted by Trump and excited by Haley’s potential to rebuild the Republican Party.

“I don’t necessarily worry about the court cases,” Rice said. “But it’s the baggage, and honestly, sometimes what comes out of his mouth and – how do I put this diplomatically – the name-calling, the putting other people down.”

Michael Lewis, a Hollis resident, said he supported the way Trump approached the economy, the border and America’s relationship with NATO, but he couldn’t vote for a presidential candidate “whose age is past life expectancy.”

He also expressed doubts that Trump will still be eligible to run for president in the general election.

“I think the sequence is there’s campaigning, then there’s the [Republican National] Convention, then there’s going to be the conviction of Donald Trump,” Lewis said. “There’s going to have to be an alternative. I think she’s the answer.”

Still, while some former Trump voters are open, even eager, to vote for Haley, the former president’s base in New Hampshire remains strong.

“MAGA is not going to be with her,” Trump told Fox News on Thursday.

That was the sentiment at the Saddle Up Saloon in Kingston on Friday afternoon, where GOP Sen. J.D. Vance of Ohio rallied a few dozen Trump supporters. In interviews, attendees mentioned several criticisms Haley’s rivals have leveled against her foreign policy views and her conservatism.

Sylvia, a Nashua voter at the event who declined to give her last name, said she would sit out the general election if Trump made Haley his running mate.

“She’s a RINO, she’s a war monger,” she said, using the acronym for “Republican in name only.” “I’m not for her at all.”

Bill Jackson, an 86-year-old from Hampton who plans to vote for Trump, said he believed Haley has support only among elitists and echoed the former president’s comments about Democratic crossover votes.

“She’s pro-war. She’s also pro-immigration, illegal immigration,” he said. “I mean, she said we’ve got to treat these people as equals. No, we don’t, they’re illegally coming into this country.”

Trump’s campaign and allied super PACs have tried to paint Haley as weak on border security. Haley has responded by saying securing the border would be a top priority of her administration. She has characterized herself as a conservative and said her advocacy for a strong US foreign policy is meant to prevent war.

An alternative to Trump – and Biden

On the trail, Haley has expanded on the pitch she started making on the night of the Iowa caucuses – that she is the best chance voters have of preventing both Trump and President Joe Biden from winning a second term. She has highlighted polls that show her beating Biden in a general election by a wider margin than the GOP front-runner, and argued that she would help Republicans down ballot win House, Senate and gubernatorial races.

Marist poll released Friday found Haley running near-even with Biden, 47% to 44%, in a New Hampshire general election matchup, while Trump trailed Biden by 7 points.

Haley has also sought to draw comparisons between Trump and Biden, from their ages to the amount of government spending they approved in office, and said both presidents come with “baggage.”

Her revamped stump speech also pushes back more aggressively against the Trump campaign’s characterization of parts of her record, including her position that the retirement age needs to be raised for people in their 20s and 30s. In a recent ad, Trump’s campaign incorrectly claimed Haley wants to limit Social Security for current beneficiaries.

Haley noted that Trump supported raising the Social Security age to 70. Trump supported raising the Social Security age in his 2000 book, “The America We Deserve,” but wavered on whether to cut entitlements since running for president in 2016, CNN’s KFile reported last year.

“If he’s going to lie about me, we’re going to tell the truth about him,” Haley said in Hollis on Thursday. “You’re going to see a lot of things said, but at the end of the day it’s the drama, and vengeance, and the vindictiveness that we want to get out of the way.”

The message resonated with Nancy Protzmann, an undeclared voter who attended the Hollis event and said she’s long been looking for a candidate to back against Trump. As she left the venue, she said she plans to request a Republican ballot and vote for Haley.

“I will do anything in my power to make sure that Trump does not become our next president,” Protzmann said. “But I liked what she said – and I don’t want Biden either.”

Asked whether her decision was intended to be more of an affirmative vote for Haley or a roadblock for Trump, she said ideally both.

“I hope it will be a launching pad for her, because I do think she would be a good president,” Protzmann said. “And I certainly hope it will help block him.”

This story has been updated with new reporting.

CNN’s Ebony Davis and Ali Main contributed to this report.

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What voters in New Hampshire have to say about Nikki Haley and Donald Trump ahead of Tuesday’s primary